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  • David Bentley

Feature: Music Festivals still on in Europe, including the Nordic countries

While music festivals were widely cancelled earlier this year (and in some cases rescheduled ones might not go ahead either) several Nordic countries have confirmed that their later events will be held, giving UK music lovers the opportunity to see Nordic talent in the flesh in the not-too-distant future.

First up is the Reeperbahn Festival in Hamburg, 16-19 September. Hang on a minute, Hamburg’s in Germany, right? Yes, but I can recommend it for several reasons. Second only in size by visitor numbers to SXSW, It’s probably the #1 indoor festival in Europe in my opinion, with so much going on over four days, both live performances and conference sessions, that it’s difficult to know where to start. The Anchor Awards ceremony in particular, for which the Head Judge is Tony Visconti (producer for Bowie, T-Rex etc) is not to be missed.

Secondly, Reeperbahn always seems to feature many Scandinavian artists. Hamburg is in northern Germany of course, close to Denmark, and many Danish artists in particular are managed or otherwise supported out of the city. Furthermore, it is in the nature of festivals like Reeperbahn to have a focus country each year and this year it is…Denmark.

The programme had to be cut back while they worked out how to organise the event subject to ‘social distancing’ rules (in fact just how they do it may become a benchmark for other events) and the five big name artists/bands who would have performed at the magnificent Elbphilharmonie have been transferred to 2021. Nevertheless, the band application platform has reopened and will remain until 17 July at least. New acts just booked include Tuvaband and Blaue Blume, both of which have been reviewed in NMR this year.

Hamburg is a surprisingly inexpensive place, to fly to, to stay in, and to eat and drink in but you’ll need cash; a lot of places don’t take credit cards.

Then in November it is time for Iceland Airwaves (04-07 November). Iceland handled the virus situation very well and was able to reopen its borders in June. The country is now extremely dependent on foreign tourists with a huge infrastructure to support, and it is certain a big welcome awaits any visitor this year. It isn’t cheap but with a little bit of shopping around you can budget to live on £20 a day and can get a reasonable room for £50-£60 per night. Most of the venues are in the small downtown area (the famous 101 Reykjavik postcode) and it is quite easy to walk between them. There is also a big off- and off off-venue programme.

An indoor event like Reeperbahn but much smaller and more of a ‘showcase’ one, Iceland Airwaves features a lot of Icelandic artists as you can imagine but they are all very good. I don’t think I’ve ever seen an Icelandic artist or band that didn’t deliver. But that’s no surprise. Almost everyone plays a musical instrument. Plenty of other Nordic acts as well plus some from the UK and U.S. There is always one big name at least. Last year it was Of Monsters and Men with the final night of their World Tour. This year’s could be Björk, who plays three live and streamed shows in conjunction with Iceland Airwaves at Reykjavik’s Harpa Hall on the 9th, 15th and 23rd August.

Numbered amongst the artists this year are Myrkvi, who was reviewed in NMR recently and “Iceland’s “new pop king”, Daði Freyr. My favourites (who tend to turn up each year but usually book late) include the manic Sykur who encapsulate what Iceland is about (and whose member Halldór Eldjárn is definitely there in an individual capacity this year) and Soffía Björg, who we have reviewed recently.

There’s a conference programme as well.

Finally, Oslo’s By: Larm will return on 04-06 March 2021 having been to the best of my knowledge the last European festival this year before ‘lockdown’. Another showcase festival much in the mould of Iceland Airwaves it is considered the #1 event for not only Norway but also Sweden and Denmark for ‘breaking’ artists and is even more important this year owing to the cancellation of Øyafestivalen, which should have taken place in August. Most of the artists are Norwegian but again there is a wide range from other Nordic countries and from the UK.

Once again, like the other two events, the festival footprint is walkable, except that there are a few hills in Oslo and it tends to snow a lot, with most of the events within a mile square area in a variety of venues both downtown and in the hipster playground of Grünerløkka, from sweaty clubs to churches, together with another conference programme.

Oslo is one of the most expensive cities in the world but there is a festival tent with inexpensive food available while convenience stores offer decent big pizza slices and sausage barms for around £7. Just don’t buy any alcohol unless you bank with Rothschild.

This year’s NMR By: Larm review is here:

Germany, Norway and Iceland are all on the UK government’s list for British travellers who will not be subject to quarantine on return to the UK (as of 08-Jul-2020).

Editors Note. Special final mention to the Finnish ‘Superwood’ festival, which is taking place just outside Helsinki on the 2nd / 3rd October. Set at the Hotel Rantapuisto (which looks lovely), there are some great indie artists already lined up, including NMR favourites Black Lizard, Ghosts on TV and Gim Kordon. We might do a 'thing' on this festival if we have chance.


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